Dungeon Parade Vol. 1: A Dungeon Too Many

Written by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim
Art by Manu Larcenet
64 pages, color
Published by NBM

I really have to give Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim credit when it comes to their series Dungeon, in that in just about any other hands it would no doubt go horribly wrong. It’s not enough that there are three “main” series (Dungeon The Early Years set in the past, Dungeon Zenith being the “present” glory years, and Dungeon Twilight the apocalyptic future of the series), but they even went and created spin-offs. One of these spin-offs is Dungeon: Parade, additional stories set in-between the first two volumes of Zenith, additional light-hearted romps starring Marvin the Dragon and Herbert the Duck. And you know what? Sfar and Trondheim are clearly inspired by all of these routes and side-tracks, because Dungeon Parade shows no signs of stopping the high levels of enjoyment here.

It’s a rough life, working for the Dungeon Keeper. Adventuring parties and rampaging hordes regularly show up to attack the Dungeon and try and ransack its treasures, but at least that’s business as usual. If you’re Marvin and Herbert, though, even stranger things seem to keep showing up in your path. From an amusement-park Dungeon going up next door, to a magic lamp sending everyone on a quest to find the best way to spend its last wish, nothing is simple in the Dungeon. It makes you almost wish the rampaging hordes would show back up again, really.

Sfar and Trondheim return effortlessly to the general silliness and light-heartedness of the first Dungeon Zenith story here, in this collection of two albums originally published in French. The first story (from which the subtitle A Dungeon Too Many gets its name) has them parodying amusement parks, with their watered down look at the world around them, fake facades for buildings, and forced frivolity. It’s an easy subject to attack, but it’s much to Sfar and Trondheim’s credit that it doesn’t come across as old hat. It helps in part that they focus on the different characters’s reactions; Marvin and Herbert each have a very different reason for being there, and their attitudes are both a nice bit of characterization as well as keeping things lively. The second story has just as much fun, with silly wishes, ornery genies, and time travel all keeping the story lively and unpredictable. While it’s certainly different in plot than the first story, it does a great job of keeping with the same tone so that the two fit well together.

What really impressed me, though, is that while Dungeon Zenith is deliberately lighter in tone than the other Dungeon series, there are still veins of a slightly more serious nature running through this series. The first story has an important subplot about how the Dungeon Keeper treats his employees within the Dungeon, and about making people want to work for you and just what can happy otherwise. In the second story, we’ve got slavery and ghettoization of a different species and attempted genocide, which is hardly the lightest of subjects. But among that slight grimness, there’s also a philosophical question being raised about what one should wish for if given the chance. It’s a little clichéd, but it also gives the story a bit of balance, something to help Dungeon Parade still ultimately be the least heavy of the Dungeon books.

Larcenet previously worked with Trondheim on their series Astronauts of the Future, and it’s nice to see that they (along with Sfar) have just as good a synergy here. Trondheim drew a wild assortment of monsters in the original Dungeon Zenith volumes, and Larcenet picks up that challenge and runs with it. Some of the best scenes artistically in Dungeon Parade just involve the monsters all in a group, so you can see the inventive designs on display that Larcenet comes up with. He’s capable of more than just neat looking creatures, though; scenes like the horde’s siege of Lilsnaught’s dungeon have just the right level of majesty and grandeur that they deserve, for instance. Likewise, whenever Herbert’s sword transforms him into a past champion, the end result is both awe-inspiring and also full of just the right level of gore. It’s a fine line that Larcenet has to walk for this series, but he does an excellent job with it.

Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? In the case of Dungeon, I’m prepared to say that the answer is no. Dungeon Parade Vol. 1 is another great addition to Sfar and Trondheim’s multiple Dungeon series, and so long as they keep creating the books, I’ll keep reading them. Fantasy has never been quite this funny—other creators could learn from Sfar and Trondheim. I, for one, am always ready for another Parade.

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